More protection for precious sea habitat

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​St Kilda celebrated 30 years of World Heritage Site status.

Graham Martin's photo

18th April 2016 by Graham Martin 0 Comments

The seas around one of Scotland’s remotest islands have been given extra protection thanks tough new safeguards.

Conservationists have welcomed the measures around the St Kilda archipelago, which ban damaging fishing methods.

The islands are managed by the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) and celebrate 30 years of World Heritage Site status later this year.

They were given the designation, shared with the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the Galapagos Islands, in recognition of their natural heritage, exceptional beauty and significant natural habitats that it supports, notably the largest seabird colony in Europe.

It is a great relief that this new protection for the sea is finally in place

This designation was extended to include the sea around St Kilda in 2004 and the new fishing regulations – which ban dredging and beam trawling – come into force as part of this.

Dr Richard Luxmoore, senior nature advisor at SNH, said: “It is a great relief that as the 30th anniversary of St Kilda’s World Heritage status approaches, this new protection for the sea is finally in place, after years of campaigning.

“Although these waters have been a marine Special Area of Conservation since 2005, in practice, there was no legislation stopping harmful fishing methods.”  

As well as banning the use of trawl nets and dredges, which are capable of damaging the very rich sea life on the seabed around St Kilda, the use of set nets has also been prohibited - these curtains of net hang vertically in the water and catch species like spiny lobsters.

Dr Luxmoore continued: “Unfortunately these nets can also entangle other wildlife, notably seals and seabirds. And while we don’t know the scale of this issue, the decision to ban them is a welcome precaution that will benefit St Kilda’s million seabirds.”

St Kilda is not completely off limits for fisherman, however. Creel fishing for lobsters and crabs continues within the World Heritage Site. These cages cause less damage to seabed features than trawl nets.

Marking the end of thousands of years of human occupation, St Kilda’s remaining population was evacuated to the mainland at their own request in 1930. 

A survey of some of the marine features around St Kilda was carried out during 2015 by divers from Scottish Natural Heritage which revealed some truly spectacular wildlife living within its reefs and underwater caves.

A series of these photographs can be found here